The Plough Foundation, Memphis, TN

In 2012 the Plough Foundation of Memphis, TN, contacted the AdvantAge Initiative team to inquire about conducting the AdvantAge survey in Shelby County, TN, which includes Memphis and the surrounding suburbs. The Plough Foundation was interested in funding an aging-focused program in the community and wanted to get a sense of what the needs and priorities of older adults in Shelby County were. The AdvantAge Initiative team worked with Plough Foundation staff to customize the AdvantAge survey questionnaire to their needs, and Foundation leaders decided that the list-assisted, randomized telephone survey methodology was right for them.

The AdvantAge Initiative team engaged SSRS, a survey research company that has long conducted AdvantAge Initiative telephone surveys, to conduct the Shelby County survey. The survey of Shelby County residents aged 65+ was in the field from April 5 to May 1, 2012. SSRS oversampled households outside of Memphis and low-income households (less than $20,000 annually) in Memphis and outside of Memphis. A total of 551 surveys were completed, and survey findings were provided to the Plough Foundation.

In June 2012, Plough Foundation staff convened a meeting with a large group of community stakeholders to review the survey data and identify major issues. Four breakout groups were also organized, one for each of the four AdvantAge Initiative domains, and were asked to discuss the identified issues, including the impact of the issues on individuals and the community; assets already in hand to address the challenges; and barriers to success, as well as to brainstorm potential action steps to address the issues.

One of the issues that came to the fore was about the housing needs of low-income seniors in the community. The survey findings showed that there were significant housing disparities between those who had annual incomes under $20,000 and those with annual incomes $20,000 and above. In the first case (under $20,000), 54% of seniors own their homes and 40% rent, while among seniors who have higher incomes ($20,000 and above), 90% own their homes, while only 9% rent. In addition, the survey findings showed that there were significant needs to improve the housing stock of lower income elders. These findings also revealed racial and income disparities among those who said they needed major home repairs in order to remain in their residences. For example:

Translating these percentages into numbers, we estimated that nearly 9,000 lower income households with at least one older adult in Shelby County needed repairs or modifications to enable the older adults to age in place. Some of the residents said that they intended to make the needed repairs or modifications, but others said that they will not make the changes because they cannot afford to do so.

In an article in Washington Monthly, Rick Masson, the Executive Director of the Plough Foundation, explains why the Plough Foundation decided to take on home repair and modification for older adults as a signature program of the Foundation:

“The potential for impact coupled with the incredible need made it clear that a significant investment was needed [to repair and modify homes], and in November 2014, our board awarded a $3.9 million dollar grant to launch the Aging in Place Program, an unprecedented collaborative effort between Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis, Service Over Self and Memphis Light, Gas & Water. This program provides accessibility improvements, mobility modifications, weatherization enhancements and critical home repairs crucial to helping seniors live in their homes longer and retain their independence. The program serves low-income homeowners age 60 or older – or households with a senior residing full-time in the home – who are current on their taxes and mortgage.”

In an update provided by Katie Midgley, Director of Research and Evaluation at the Plough Foundation, between the start of the program and the end of April, 2017:

  • Work was completed or in process on 364 homes
  • 92% are satisfied with the work the contractors have done and 95% would recommend the Aging in Place program to others who need help
  • 85% of clients have seen reductions in their monthly utility bills; 75% of AIP clients are saving between $20 and $50 per month; and 25% are saving $50 or more
  • Almost 40% of clients believe that they would have had to move out of their homes in the next three years if they had not received help. Many of these said that they would have had to move into an assisted living facility or nursing home.
  • The Foundation has been able to leverage an additional $1,737,500 to support the continuation of the Aging in Place program in Shelby County, and have hired additional staff in order to continue their successful, client-centered work

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, after working on homes and observing the conditions under which many seniors live:

"Habitat saw a need for a social worker to direct seniors to an extended network of services outside of our program’s expertise and scope. She has provided referrals, developed a resource manual for clients, churches and community centers, and served as the connection to wraparound services we did not initially foresee.”

Read the full report here

We look forward to more updates as this Aging in Place initiative continues.

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